The Cardiovascular System
The beauty of a spring meadow in bloom, the profound sense of presence in a grove of Redwoods--the heart takes flight and the spirit is healed. This is not the only way in which the magnificent flora with which we share our planet can bring healing to our hearts--it can be physical as well, offering nourishment and healing for our troubled hearts.
Herbs still maintain a central position in orthodox medicines treatment of various heart problems. Plants that contain constituents called cardiac glycosides are used throughout the world for the treatment of heart failure and some arrhythmia’s. In such conditions these herbs increase the strength of heart beat, and normalize the rate of beat. Their real value lies in the increased efficiency not necessitating an increase of oxygen supply to the heart muscle. In heart problems there is often a deficiency in blood supply because of blockage in the coronary arteries. It is not just Foxglove that has such valuable actions. Lily of the Valley shares its therapeutic value but has fewer side effects and lower toxicity. However, herbal remedies nurture the heart in deeper ways as well. Consider the cordial, a warming drink and a word for heart-felt friendliness. The original cordial was a medieval drink based on Borage that warmed the heart and gave the person HEART.
Half the annual mortality in America results from heart and blood-vessel diseases, so any contribution that herbal medicine can make to its treatment is to be welcomed. Modern cardiology can achieve much, and is seemingly miraculous when it comes to acute emergencies, but what of maintaining good health and preventing the development of a pathology? Is there more that we can do for ourselves than simply minimizing risk factors and appropriate exercise? Emphatically yes!
There are profound concerns about toxicity from long term use of prescription medications. Although it is resplendent in ‘wonder drugs,’ the materia medica of modern medical science is sorely lacking in preventive medicines. Tonics are not mentioned in pharmacology texts as the concept is considered illusory. The discarding of gentle toning therapies in favor of intensely active ones can be seen as one of the core problems with orthodox health care. This need not be seen as a clash of approaches which are mutually exclusive. There is a place for gentle toning just as there is a place for the often dramatically successful techniques of cardiology. They can complement and support each other.
The Medical Herbalist recognizes a broad range of relevant herbs for the cardiovascular system. As a group they are known as cardiac remedies. This is a general term for herbs that have an action on the heart. Some of the remedies in this group are powerful cardioactive agents such as Foxglove, while others are gentler and safer cardiac tonics such as Hawthorn and Linden Flowers. Cardioactives owe their effects on the heart to active substances such as cardiac glycosides, thus having the both the strengths and drawbacks of these constituents. Cardiotonics have a beneficial action on the heart and blood vessels but do not contain cardiac glycosides. While not having the dramatic, rapid and often life-saving effects of many cardiological drugs, they have a definite advantage when treating or preventing chronic degenerative conditions. In addition to tonic remedies for the heart there are also tonics for the blood vessels, often rich in constituents called flavones. These remarkable herbs include Hawthorn, Garlic, Linden and Ginkgo.
There are, of course, some limitations to the use of herbs in treating the heart. The most crucial one today is not a herbal limitation but a human. The problem involves self diagnosis, a very hazardous pastime. In the hands of a competent clinical herbalist medicinal plants offer a great deal in the treatment of cardiovascular conditions, but for the non-professional, self selection of herbs or self-diagnosis should never replace competent diagnosis or a substitute for prescription medicines.
A number of herbs have a reputation as being specific for hypertension, usually working because of their impact on one or other of the processes involved in the conditions development. The hypotensives fit this description. The most important plant remedy within western medicine is Hawthorn, probably followed by Linden. European mistletoe (Viscum alba) and Oliveleaves (Olea europaea) are other well known plants thought of as specifics. However the multifactorial etiology of hypertension limit the value of the concept of a specific in its treatment. Orthodox medicine has used Indian Snake root (Rauwolfia serpentina) as a treatment for hypertension, but there are problematic side affects.
One Possible Prescription for Hypertension
Crataegus spp. 2 parts
Tilia platyphylos 1 part
Achillea millefolium 1 part
Viburnum opulus 1 part
Valeriana officinalis 1 part
Dosage: up to 5ml of tincture 3 times a day. Allium sativum should be used as a dietary supplement.
Actions supplied by Hypertension Prescription
• Hypotensive (Crataegus spp., Tilia spp., Achillea millefolium, Viburnum opulus, Valeriana officinalis )
• Cardiotonic (Crataegus spp., Tilia spp.)
• Diuretic (Achillea millefolium, Crataegus spp., Tilia spp.)
• Antispasmodic (Tilia spp., Viburnum opulus , Valeriana officinalis )
• Vascular tonic (Crataegus spp., Tilia spp., Achillea millefolium)
• Nervine relaxant (Tilia spp., Viburnum opulus , Valeriana officinalis )
Other plants would come to mind depending upon the individuals specific symptom picture. For example if headaches are part of the picture of the patients hypertension then include Wood Betony (Stachys betonica) as part of the prescription. If there are palpitations associated add Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca). Stress as a factor would indicate increasing the nervine content and possibly including an adaptogen.
Rosemary Gladstar, president of United Plant Savers and author of Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal